My guest today is Gerry Bello, chief researcher for The Columbus Free Press. Welcome to OpEdNews, Gerry. You and Bob Fitrakis broke several stories ahead of the election about about voting machine ownership and mysterious, uncertified, untested software. Can you tell our readers what that was all about?
photo credit: Nonstop Record 2008
Sure. One of our sources, someone close to the internal workings of Ohio's election system leaked a copy of a contract to us. We then confirmed the contract's existence via public records request. The contract was between ES&S and the state of Ohio to place new untested reporting software on the central tabulators in a number of counties. We don't know how many. It could have been as many as 39. In court, they claimed 25. We have no way to be sure as the Secretary of State's office is still withholding records from us.
Are we wrong to be sanguine about the election results?
Yes. The election was a victory for the democratic party. It was not a victory for democracy.
Let's go back and talk more about the untested, uncertified software. Where did it come from? What was its purpose? Why did no one know about it? The way it was handled, it couldn't help but sound like a stealth attack, even if it was completely innocent.
Where did it come from? Allegedly from ES&S. At least, they claim they made it.
What was its purpose? Allegedly, to change the reporting output from the county tabulators from one format (.xml) to another format (.csv). Truthfully, nobody knows what its purpose is or was because nobody outside of ES&S has seen it.
Why did no one know about it? The secretary of state's office wrote itself two memos. In these memos, the secretary's office excused itself from having to test or evaluate the software. The legal logic doesn't hold water, in my opinion. It does not hold water in the opinion of our attorneys. It also does not hold water in the opinion of anyone with a modicum of reading skills.
The way it was handled, it couldn't help but sound like a stealth attack, even if it was completely innocent.
I agree. The important thing to keep in mind in all this is that anything regarding the inner workings of electronic voting systems is a trade secret, protected from public scrutiny and review by statute. Another thing to keep in mind is the near total stonewalling we have been subjected to by the Ohio Secretary of State's office on our public records requests.
Why did Fitrakis and former Republican attorney, Cliff Arnebeck go to court on Election Day? And what, exactly, if anything, did they accomplish?
Bob had standing to sue both in his capacity as a congressional candidate in the third district and as state co-chair of the Green Party. So, he sued seeking injunctive relief in both federal and state court. The federal judge was not persuaded by our key witness, Michael Duniho, a 37-year NSA veteran. The attorney's for ES&S hinged their defense on the fact that Duniho had not actually seen the software. Of course, it is illegal for anyone to see the software, as it's a trade secret. As a sidebar, one should note that I found four FREE utilities that accomplish the same thing that this software program purports to do for $20,000.
The state court judge, was more moved by our arguments. He was unwilling to interfere with an election, but he was willing to have us back in court with any evidence of irregularities, at which time he signalled he would be willing to order a recount at the expense of ES&S and the office of the Secretary of State.
And what, exactly, if anything, did they accomplish? They accomplished two things, in my estimation. The first thing that was accomplished was that secret dealings with our election system by a highly partisan secretary of state's office [were] brought to light.
The second thing... Well... I can't be sure, but I certainly believe that the attention cast on the situation in Ohio caused whoever was going to interfere with the election to back off. The gun was loaded, that I'm sure of. But somebody didn't pull the trigger. It seemed to me that Karl Rove was expecting very different results that night. For some reason, he did not get them. Now, the hard part of the investigation begins. What exactly was Rove expecting and how was it to be accomplished?
So, now what? Will Fitrakis go back to court and have this all re-examined by the more sympathetic state court judge?
We'll see. Were are looking at some numbers that are very irregular in at least two counties. We may choose to take this back to court. We are definitely going to publish on it soon. The question becomes, with what evidence we have, what do we ask the judge for?
What is important to note, is that despite the lack of overall election theft in this cycle, all the mechanisms are still in place. Dealing with that will a matter much larger than a single court case. The scope of that work is beyond a single person or organization.
What else would you like to talk about before we wrap this up, Gerry?
I'd like to get back to my statement about this not being a victory for democracy. What I meant by that was the following: People had their right to vote suppressed at an alarming rate. The mechanisms for election fraud are still in place. The strategy of the Democratic party is to mobilize above and beyond the Republican's ability to steal. This is a strategy that may win for them, but that win is not a win for us. People are still disenfranchised. The mechanisms of Democracy are still gamed.
Worse, election results paint us a picture of ourselves as a country that is false. If the 4% of voters in who were forced to vote provisional had been counted, and the untold thousands who were completely disenfranchised were counted, what would that actually say about the political mood of this country? The American face we see in the mirror would not be one what is sharply divided and in need of bi-partisan compromise. We would instead see a disenfranchised majority bullied, deprived and controlled by a vocal and entrenched minority.
Once we combine the evils of voter suppression, electronic fraud, voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering and the electoral college, we live under a clear system of minority rule. We can not game that away. We must confront and overcome it.
As if all the factors you mentioned weren't bad enough, apparently, federal legislation [Conduct of Elections Bill S 3635 and HR 6590] is being pushed through Congress as we speak. I just read a very disturbing post by Bev Harris of Black Box Voting. The bills cited will do away with standing in line by doing away with real people showing up at the polls to vote, emphasizing absentee ballots and thereby throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Bev says: ""Convenience voting', we are told, will bring more people into the system, thus making it more democratic. But if the public can never verify who those people are, or whether the votes being counted on their behalf are all of their votes, extra votes, or real, or counterfeit, it is not a democratic system.
... By steering the public eye away from our inalienable right to self-govern, displacing it onto 'participation percent' in an unverifiable process, we hand over the ability to grant permission to whatever the government decides to do."
What do you think? Is Bev overreacting?
Without reading the bill, and with only your say so on it, I would say yes, Bev is dead on. There is a community participation aspect of going to the polls. Democracy can not be phoned in. It is not a painless or no mess process. That experience of going out and participating is an essential part of self-governance. Self- and community governance and participation is something that needs to be increased, not done away with.
The other trojan horse in emphasizing absentee ballots is the technology that Scytl intends to deploy. Combine absentee ballots with smart-phone voting with Carrier IQ's spyware and democracy is deader than a steerage passenger on the Titanic.
Aren't you overreacting now? What's wrong with technology? Shouldn't we be embracing it rather than fearing it?
Technology is not socially neutral. All technology affects social relationships.
The idea that newer is better is not always true. The concept I'd like to introduce is appropriate technology. Or, more correctly, socially appropriate use of technology.
I also have a degree in Computer Security, so I'm pretty far from being a luddite. Computers, and the way that they are employed, as with any other technology can improve our lives or oppress us.
Technology is great for people discussing the issues, interacting with each other, spreading the word and even having discordant conflict, this is all part of democracy, and these would all be examples of technology bringing us together. Electronic absentee ballots tend socially towards less democracy because they isolate people from interaction with each other and the process.
Let's not forget that with absentee ballots, there is no chain of custody, so there is absolutely no assurance that the ballots get where they're supposed to and are recorded and counted as intended. Any last thoughts, Gerry?
The saddest thing about absentee ballots is that people have come to trust them more than voting in person because of the flaws of electronic voting machines.
Agreed; so many less than optimal choices. Thanks so much for talking with me, Gerry. Keep up the good work at Free Press!